From April 7 to 11, during the closing days of the 2010 Images Festival, Toronto hosted nearly three hundred scholars, artists, curators and students at the Ontario College of Art & Design for the second International Experimental Media Congress. This was not the second “annual” Congress—second coming would be more appropriate. The first was convened more than twenty years ago, in 1989 as the Toronto Experimental Film Congress. Many (I can’t count myself among them) remember how political and generational agendas met in a polarizing clash of mythic proportions around the 1989 gathering. A significant group of detractors put forward an anti-manifesto and some to this day remain turned-off to the original event, as well as to the difficult project of exhuming it.
While 2010 had its fair share of deficiencies, two that I’m told plagued 1989—a limited canon and lack of women—did not make waves this year. According to filmmaker Barbara Hammer, who presented a performance in Toronto in celebration of her newly released book chronicling her life and work, "I was at the last EMC and the big complaint was gender inequality. Corrected!” However there was at least one notable casualty: “we lost the raucous edge of complaint and challenge we had twenty years ago.” I would agree that this “congress” was missing the kind of audacity, theater and conflict found in most houses of representatives. Although it was ostensibly not an academic conference, generally it felt like one. Most panelists delivered tidy presentations and the overall experience was managed and mannered, with moments of noise and inspiration. On the plus side of this, the week was smooth and friendly, with an engaging film festival and relevant exhibitions providing content for the evenings. I came curious and left satisfied.